Monday, 1 February 2010

Why have an exhibition about the Life of Jesus?

A talk given at the LIFE EXHIBITION in St Peter's, February 2010

This LIFE exhibition is fantastic, and I hope that you think it is really important that we do this – even if you do not believe it yourself.

At a human interest level, our children need to know about Jesus. We need to know about Jesus.
There really is a great ignorance:

He is for people, at the least:

1) A great teacher: we see some of that stuff here in the exhibition.

Take the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).
Why should the Samaritan go out of his way for someone who hates him? Are not the other two who pass by simply being sensible?
And yet the story of the Good Samaritan embodies so much of the teaching that was specific to Jesus: ‘Love for enemies; Doing to others what you would have them do to you; Sacrificing yourself for another person; compassion for the weak and the vulnerable’)

And so much of Jesus’ teaching has influenced us and our society far more than we think.

It has shaped our system of justice. Our justice is not just about retribution. Many people think that it should be. You lock them up and throw away the key. But the great Christian prison reformers (Elizabeth Fry), recognised that there has to be an element about redemption, and – taking her cue specifically from Jesus’ teaching – that visiting and caring for people in prison matters because people in prison matter.

It has shaped our legal system: The belief that there is a higher principle of justice has underpinned our system of justice. It is not simply about the rule of the strong or the rule of the majority.

It has shaped our notion of virtue: ideas of mercy and compassion for the vulnerable, of forgiveness, of turning the other cheek (Jesus said, ‘if someone slaps you on one side of the face, offer them the other’), of the sacredness of life, and the defence of the weak and the vulnerable (that is why Christians have cautioned society about notions of euthanasia, assisted suicide and abortion on demand).

That is very different from the virtues which emerge in other cultures. The virtues of the Greek Gods are power, the ability to get revenge, the trampling down of enemies, that might is right. Nietzsche used to say that Christianity was the triumph of the pale Galilean, the triumph of a slave mentality, which cherished all that is weak and vulnerable and pathetic, everything that deserved to die.

But Jesus is important not just because he is, for many people, a great teacher. He is also

2) A great inspiration

So many people have been inspired by him: great and small. Elizabeth Fry, Wilberforce, Lord Shaftesbury, Martin Luther King, Mr Theresa.

Our own Queen says: "To many of us our beliefs are of fundamental importance. For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life.” (Queen's speech 2000)

And today literally millions of people would call him Lord, and would claim that they are trying to live their lives in obedience to him.

And the story of Jesus has been a story that has been at the centre of our national life for about 1000 years. Christmas and Easter are our great festivals. And the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus is a story about self-sacrificial love, about dying for enemies, and it is a story of how there can be hope in even the darkest of all circumstances.

So it really is vital that we know about this Jesus

But is there more to Jesus? Is he more than a brilliant teacher and a great inspiration?


In John’s account of Jesus, one of his followers has asked Jesus to show them God. ‘Lord, show us the Father and we will be satisfied’.(John 14:1-9)

Someone asked God that question in the Old Testament. God answered Moses and said, ‘Nobody can see my face and live”. (Exodus 33:17-23)
But Jesus answers Philip, ‘Whoever has seen me has seen the Father’. 
And he says, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life' (John 14:6)

It is an astonishing answer.

And the Christian conviction about Jesus is not just that he is a great teacher and a great inspiration, but that he is also God in human form, more accurately, that he is the Son of God in a unique sense.

1. When he says I am the way he is claiming to be the only way that we will get to know the Father God.

Imagine you arrive at Bury Station. You say, ‘I wish to get to the LIFE exhibition at St Peter’s. How do I get there?’

The person you ask might say, ‘Go round Parkway, down Out Westgate, turn right at Spread Eagle’ and so on. And you might set off and try and follow their instructions.

That is how many people treat religion as: a set of instructions in order to get to enlightenment, to God. If I pray, go to church, am good, go on pilgrimage, give – I’ll get to God. And it is how many people treat Jesus. He gave us a set of teachings and if we obey them, we will get to God.

But that is not what Jesus is saying here, when he says, ‘I am the way’

What he is saying is the same as if the person at Bury station says, ‘I won’t give you instructions how to get there. I’ll give you a lift there myself. I’ll take you’

Of course you need to trust them. You need to trust that they don’t mean you any harm. You need to trust that they know where St Peter’s is. But once you’ve made that decision, they themselves have become the way to St Peter’s

And Jesus teaches us how to live life God’s way, but he does not give us a set of instructions to get to God. He simply says, ‘Follow me and I will show you the way’.

But there is one more thing. As we begin to allow Jesus on the way to God, we begin to discover that the one who is taking us with him is in fact God himself, and we begin to realise that Christianity is fundamentally about getting to know Jesus Christ better.

2. When Jesus says I am the truth he is saying something equally profound.

Truth, we are told is like an elephant in a room, surrounded by many blind people. Each person touches the elephant and tells the truth as they see it/feel it.

There are a number of problems with that:
Not everything that is said is true. The elephant is not green; it is not a mile high; it is not four trees; it is not a snake
And it all does really depend on the fact that there is an elephant in the room in the first place.

Jesus is not saying that he is one way of looking at the elephant. Jesus is saying, ‘I am the elephant’.

He is saying: I am the Truth. Not just the truth about God, but the ultimate truth about life, the universe and everything.

There is much talk about the conflict of science and religion. But there is in fact a remarkable convergence. As scientists grapple with the wonders of quarks and quantum physics, and the ambiguities of light waves and light particles, as they try to define the fundamental forces that are in the universe, they are beginning to say that somewhere in the mystery it is not about stuff, it is about relationship.

And when Jesus says 'I am the truth', he is not just saying 'I teach the truth' or 'I am totally authentic'. He is saying that the answer to life, the universe and everything is not 42 (for fans of ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’; it is not a single unified force; it is not total randomness, nirvana or nothingness or the cosmic soul. It is in fact a person who is beyond personality, who for 33 years chose to live on earth as a human being. It is Jesus Christ, the Son of God.


3. And Jesus says I am the Life


Just as the sun is light and the source of light, so Jesus is saying that he is life and the source of life.

And Jesus says, and he is quite uncompromising about this, that if we have not put our trust in him, we are dead. Yes, of course we are physically alive, living for the physical things in this world and enjoying the physical things in this world, but as far as it really matters, we are dead.

Knowing Jesus is about living.

He says, ‘I have come that you may have life and have it in abundance’.

Real life is not about what you’ve got (possessions or qualifications). Real life is about living in the way that God made us to live.

It is about living in a relationship with God. When people open themselves up to Jesus, it really can be like learning to open our eyes. We discover a completely new dimension to life. We see ourselves and other people in a new light. There is a new course for our life, a new purpose. We are to grow in intimacy with God.

And it is about how we are. The Bible talks about how a person who is starting to walk with Jesus, who is putting their trust in Jesus, who is looking to Jesus will begin to be changed. They will begin to be filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Not overnight; and it involves us being constantly open to Jesus, the Son of God, listening to his word, receiving from him, repentant when we fail, and choosing to be obedient to him.

And it is ultimately about who or what we put at the centre of our lives. Most of us put a whole mixture of things at the centre of our lives: ourselves, our ambition or work, our family, our gadgets, clothes, latest ideas or trends, fear of being shamed, possessions, comfort, children, sex, drink, television, nothingness. It is the sort of thing that – if you were an onion – and we peeled off all the levels, what would we find at the centre?

When we come to Jesus, when we receive the LIFE that Jesus offers, it doesn't matter what happens to the physical, because this life goes on for ever. 


So why the LIFE exhibition? Why Jesus?

Because our society is what it is today because in the past it has been transformed by the teachings of Jesus.
Because many people have been inspired by Jesus, and call themselves by his name

But ultimately because he claims that he is the Son of God, the visible image of the invisible God, the one who is the way to God, the truth about God and everything and the source of life and giver of life.

We can talk about Jesus. We can debate his relevance to society then and now. But the business is only done when we choose to get down on our knees, say, ‘Yes, I look at the evidence, the prophecies, the signs you did, the resurrection, the people who have trusted in you, and I believe you are the Son of God. I am very sorry that I have lived up to now without you. And I now receive you. I ask you to come and be the very centre of my life. I put my trust in you.’

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